I have to admit that over the last few months, as I have read about how public money is being spent by all levels of government, I have been left scratching my head about some of the decisions behind the handouts.
Nationally I still can't get over the federal Tobacco Transition Program. What, you don't remember reading about that one? Well this $284-million dollar program was aimed at encouraging tobacco farmers to get out of the business. But what actually happened, according to the Auditor General of Canada and reported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CFA), was a shell game. More than half of those who received money weren't actually active tobacco farmers while other families shifted land and equipment to other family members who kept on farming. Hmmm.
Every year the CFA awards its "Teddies" for the worst use of taxpayers' money. The tobacco program took a top award this year.
The Teddy Waste Award is named for Ted Weatherill, a former federal government employee who was dismissed in 1999 for his outrageous expenses.
At the provincial level Alberta took the award for paying politicians to sit on a committee that has not met in years. Montreal was the municipal winner for snowplows caught on camera clearing snow-free sidewalks. The video went viral on YouTube, receiving almost 400,000 views.
This year BC Hydro was nominated for paying $42.3 million in performance bonuses to 99 per cent of its employees, including $840,000 for executives, $31 million for management and professional staff and $10.5 million for unionized employees.
I wonder what the poor "one per cent" did to fail to get a bonus. So much for the big picture. What about closer to home?
This week we have learned that the $109 million Whistler Sliding Track is undergoing a $1.7 million upgrade to bring the doubles, relay and women's' start up to snuff. The start position for athletes was changed following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili Feb 12, 2010 — the opening day of the Winter Olympic Games. Following the Games the sport's governing body FIL — Fédération Internationale de Luge de Course — said changes needed to be made to the Whistler track if international competitions were to be held — this is the same organization that signed off on the track as far as safety went before the 2010 Games.
But it is Canadian taxpayers on the hook for the upgrades — though-be-it from a fund set up by Olympic officials at the time for these types of costs.
How many teachers could $1.7 million fund, how many beds for seniors who need a hand, how many people could that money help re-train to get them back into the workforce?
With the summer of festivals almost behind us there has been considerable thought going into the funding formula for them.
According to the guidelines the municipality uses to give Festivals, Events, and Animation funding two key elements are that an event must be going to survive in the long-term and it must bring people to the resort. Clearly these two criteria were met with both Wanderlust – which got $100,000 and GranFondo, which got $75,000.
For GranFondo we are told the money was used for logistical support —read free transit to compensate for no free parking in Lot 4, infrastructure and equipment to ensure participant and public safety, communications to inform residents and local business. The RMOW also produced pre-, during-, and post-race animation, and evening entertainment in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
Of the $2.68 million 2012 FE&A budget, $475,000 was earmarked for augmenting existing festivals —$100,000 also went to Crankworx, $45,000 to the Children's Arts Festival, $35,000 to the upcoming Cornucopia and $125,000 to the Whistler Film Festival.
Another $55,000 was given to startup festivals, including $34,000 to the upcoming Spirit Within Festival on Sept. 29, and $5,000 for the Readers and Writers Festival.
That's all good but I keep coming back to the fact that both the GranFondo and Wanderlust are private moneymaking operations. Should be we spending FE&A money on animation around them? Generally speaking this type of grant money goes to not-for-profits as Jane Milner managing director of the Whistler Film Festival and a former assistant deputy minister for Art and Culture in B.C. told Pique last week.
Then we have the growing Intercultural Festival – a locally grown event and a hit by any measure, which asked for $20,000 and got $5,000. Likewise the Writer's Festival which has grown in scope every year asked for $25,000 to help it expand, but got only $4,000.
While I can appreciate the balancing act council has to make in using the RMI/FE&A funds it's hard not to feel that big sport events are trumping arts and culture.
It's a compelling formula since the resort wants to leverage every dollar it can. Funding small, local festivals, which may not draw visitors to boost sales throughout the resort is a hard sell in these times.
This week the Whistler Film Festival organization will make its case before council to get funds to continue its upgrade to the Rainbow Theatre – an upgrade that is key to the continuation and success of the festival argue organizers. WFF argues that it has brought millions to the resort with "modest" amount of help from the RMOW.
This too is a compelling argument. A film festival diversifies our offerings and reaches a global audience — an audience we need to engage. But like so many of these ventures partners at all levels must be at the table, organizers must have a strong business case, events must be on firm financial footing.
As Whistler considers how to spend "our" money I would argue measured reflection is the only sensible course of action. We really don't want to win a Teddy in 2013.
May 19, 2013, 9:15 AM
Owners watch helplessly as flames and smoke pour out of their home More...
May 18, 2013, 2:00 PM
Investigation into Paradise Valley water source for mountain resort continues More...
May 17, 2013, 11:02 AM
Sea to Sky Highway to be intensely monitored for high-risk driving More...